AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 79

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Session 79: Roundtable: ‘"Shengshi Zhongguo", Flourishing China: myths and realities’

Organizer: Geremie R. Barme, Australian National University, Australia

Discussants: Wen-hsin Sha, University of California, Berkeley, USA; William Kirby, Harvard University, USA; Gloria Davies, Monash University, Australia; Klaus Muehlhahn, Free University, Germany

In recent times there has been considerable discussion of the rise and fall of great nations and empires. Ideas related to emerging and declining powers have exercised popular commentators and scholars both in China and elsewhere. As the new century unfolds amidst waves of economic change and political realignment it is not surprising that old debates about empire and prosperity, overreach and decay should be rekindled by new participants, as well as garnering academic attention. On the eve of the centennial commemoration of the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 and the founding of China’s first republic we think that it is timely to re-consider ideas related to ‘flourishing ages’ or 'shengshi', and their dystopic obverse, in Chinese history—be it imperial, modern or contemporary. Our theme is ‘Shengshi Zhongguo, Flourishing China: myths and realities’. We bracket our considerations with two works that address the promise of and the nascent threats to a flourishing world or a prosperous age. These are Zheng Guanying’s 1893 'Words of Warning in a Time of Prosperity' (Shengshi weiyan), which appeared on the eve of the Sino-Japanese War and had an impact on the 1898 Reforms, and Chen Guanzhong’s sardonic novel, 'In an Age of Prosperity: China 2013' (Shengshi Zhongguo, 2013), which tells a story set in near-future Beijing, capital of regnant harmony. Both works use the much-celebrated concept of 'shengshi' not only to conjure up images of ‘the flourishing age’ but to highlight socio-cultural degradation and to warn of precipitous change.